Thursday, August 25, 2011

the corporate gigolos

Neil Bose – my friend in college, a bright student otherwise – failed to get a first class in his Economics Honours. Calcutta University, of course, applied standards of evaluation that could easily make an Oxford Don stumble. Disheartened and disgusted with our examination system, Neil threatened to write a guide-book on “How to get a First Class – written by a ‘Second Class’ student”.

It’s an old adage – “those who can do, and those who can’t teach”. A great teacher need not necessarily have been a brilliant student – though, there is nothing to prevent it from being the other way round. The same true not just in academics but also in other fields of life – especially sports or music. Some of the best sports coaches - weren’t the champions of the game. Very often – in their own careers they fell short of reaching the top – despite being hugely talented. Chances are – they didn’t get the lucky breaks – but more likely they weren’t temperamentally cut-out for making it big. It is from their failures though they learnt the rules and tricks of success – which they could put to use good use in training others.

Old Boys' Badge Value

Executive Coaching – popular abroad, especially in the US, for quite some time - is catching on India like so many other western fads. Many former senior colleagues connecting on Linked-In and Facebook mention “Executive Coach” as their current occupation. Most of these are glorified announcements of “disguised unemployment”, but still some, I am told, have made a successful practice of it – adding handsomely to the generous superannuation package endowed in their favour by past employers. They largely rely on word of mouth recommendations of friends – much the same way they land on company board memberships through ‘old boys’ network.

Like external directors how much value they really add – is questionable. Only a few amongst them have actually undergone any kind of formal training or have an accreditation for coaching. Many don’t even have a HR or Organisation Behaviour (OB) background. A coach is supposed to operate somewhere between a mentor and a therapist. It requires certain skill sets and competencies like any other profession. These people generally don’t have any such specialization and fly by the seat of their pants. But, still they do have takers.

First, there is a badge value. It’s fashionable to have an executive coach these days – if you are seen to be a high-flyer within the organization. It’s almost like the craze among the rich, famous, yuppies and wannabes for personal trainers at their private gyms. A friend in the HR circuit educated me, it’s a ‘win-win’ formula. Earlier, companies would send their ‘hi-po’s for professional development or advanced management programmes to top management schools. Now, if you are of an employee of any value – it is difficult for an organization to spare you even for a couple of weeks to attend courses. And, even if they do – the incumbent is scared if he or she’d have a job upon return. For this – appointing a coach is a convenient solution. It probably costs as much or less than an external programme and the coachee doesn’t have to take time off from his or her job. Following a round of coaching and mentoring, there are usually some visible behavioural changes, which get reflected in 360 degree appraisals, at least in the short-term, that makes everyone – the boss, the sub-ordinate, his reports and peers – happy, setting in motion a self-fulfilling virtuous cycle.

a susegad after-life

If you have been wondering – where I am leading you to with all this circumlocution, it’s about alternative vocation options, something that I have been pondering over for a long time. There are only a few people I know, who have been able to make a successful career in mid-life or later. It’s not easy to re-invent one-self. Re-skilling is one of the most difficult tasks – though we may not always realize it. Displaced populations – land losers especially – realize it at the hard way. But, this is the “Age of Unreason” – Charles Handy, the Oil Company Executive turned management Guru and Corporate Philosopher had written about. It’s a modern day challenge to prepare for that day of reckoning – otherwise, we are left holding an “Empty Rain-Coat” – to use another Handy title – shorn of our corporate trappings.

Of course, a susegad (socegado) life in Goa would be what the doctor ordered for me. But, even my young daughter refuses to take me seriously when I talk about it. A moderate climate hill-station like Coonoor would have been good too. But, these places are fast getting crowded and running out of basic necessities like water. The bigger question, however, is having neither a hefty retirement corpus nor any other source of annuity - how will I sustain myself. The cost of medical treatment itself is frightening.

Using the same convoluted Bosean logic ( Neil, no relation of the now famous D K Bose), I think - I would have made a decent Corporate Coach (among so many other things) if only I had taken the pains to archive and chronicle all my mistakes and failures in corporate life. Coming to think of it – I have learnt more from bad bosses – some of them, of the Hari Sadu variety - than the ones for whom I loved to work. But, alas I don’t have either the network of contacts or the gravitas. A friend suggested that, a way to overcome the latter could be by getting into tele-coaching – where the coachee would not be able to see me. It seems – the client opens up more when he is not sitting under the glare of the coach or mentor in a chair or a couch – but instead relaxing on his potty or lying in bed with just undies on - scratching his front or back as a thought stimulator. Somehow, it sounds like being a corporate phone gigolo and doesn’t quite appeal to my finer sensibilities.

So my quest – for a corporate ‘after-life” continues. Till then, my downhill slide from one soul breaking job to another is ordained to continue – soaps and shampoos to sanitary napkins and diapers; (news)paper to concrete, as it were.

Any suggestions are most welcome !!